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If you follow Kosta Eleftheriou on Twitter, you’ll have seen his recent campaign to yet again urge Apple to tackle scam subscription apps on the App Store.

Kosta isn’t the first person to embark on this mission. Many have tried, most notably David Barnard who attempted to effect change for years. I’ve commented on it several times too. It’s far from a new problem, but it’s not getting any better, and as Kosta points out, these apps operate their deceptive techniques for far too long.

These scams hurt the App Store in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. I’ve said this many times, but once consumer trust in the store is gone, it’s gone forever.

I’ve seen a couple of suggestions this week that letting these scam apps live on an intentional oversight to “boost services revenue”. I don’t buy this at all. If that were true, this would be the most shortsighted way possible to look at things and eventually decrease services revenue. I hope you’d agree that Apple’s bet on the App Store is a long term one.

The tricky bit of this problem is the most likely reason Apple doesn’t police these scams aggressively. Someone would have to answer the question “Does this represent value for money?” There are obvious edge cases, like the “virus scanner” that charges $99 a week to do nothing. Everyone can agree that’s a scam. Or, the weather app at $0.99 a year for a carefully crafted experience delivering accurate information. Clearly, not a scam. But drawing any line in-between those two extremes puts Apple in an impossible situation. I don’t want someone else being able to judge the value of what I produce, that’s the market’s job. Apple doesn’t want to go there either, even in regular times but especially not with potential anti-trust issues looming.

I’d like to see Apple tackle this from two sides. First, platform changes could help, like removing weekly subscriptions and redesigning purchase and subscription management UI. That might stop people signing up, and even potentially move the needle from “The App Store is scamming me” to something more specific to the rogue developer.

The other side of this issue comes down to Apple’s most significant platform problem, communication. For example, I shouldn’t have had to find a statement that Apple banned more than half a million developer accounts for fraudulent activity last year at the very bottom of an unrelated article:

Apple says more than a half-million developer accounts were terminated for fraudulent activity last year, which resulted in their apps being removed from sale. But Apple says Eshom’s developer account was regrettably included with the removals.

Communication about what Apple is doing and how they think about these problems would be a huge step in the right direction. If nothing else, it’d stop all the hot takes, including this one. I’d much rather be focusing on the positive things happening in this industry.

Dave Verwer

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And finally...

Xcode 13 code indentation is next level. 😂

Dave Verwer